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Ecosystem Profile: Polynesia-Micronesia

The Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot includes all the islands of Micronesia, tropical Polynesia and Fiji (Figure 1). Included in this enormous expanse of ocean are more than 4,500 islands, representing 11 countries, eight territories and the U.S. state of Hawaii. Despite its large marine coverage, 2.6 times larger than the continental United States, it is one of the smallest hotspots in terms of terrestrial land area, covering only 47,239 km² or an area about the size of Switzerland. The total population of the hotspot is approximately 3,106,000 but 65 percent of the population is found in Hawaii and Fiji. Table 1 is a summary of key geographical data for the 20 political units or Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) in the hotspot.

The ecosystem profile and five-year investment strategy for the Polynesia-Micronesia hotspot was developed by the CI Melanesia Program in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). In addition, the profiling process incorporated regional stakeholder expertise through four subregional roundtables and two hotspot-wide workshops. The subregional workshops were held in Fiji, French Polynesia, Micronesia, and Western Polynesia and coordinated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Te Ora Fenua (Tahiti Conservation Society), the University of Guam with the support of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Pacific Environment Consultants. More than 85 experts and contributors assisted in analyzing current threats to biodiversity, inventorying conservation and development investment taking place within the region, and defining the geographic priorities for CEPF investment.

This profile focuses on conservation outcomes—biodiversity targets against which the success of investments can be measured—as the scientific basis for determining CEPF’s geographic and thematic focus for investment. Such targets must be achieved by the global community to prevent species extinctions and halt biodiversity loss.

These targets are defined at three levels: species (extinctions avoided), sites (areas protected) and landscapes (corridors created). As conservation in the field succeeds in achieving these targets, these targets become demonstrable results or outcomes. While CEPF cannot achieve all of the outcomes identified for a region on its own, the partnership is trying to ensure that its conservation investments are working toward preventing biodiversity loss and that its success can be monitored and measured. CI’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) is coordinating the definition of conservation outcomes across the global hotspots.

Not all political units in the hotspot are eligible for CEPF funds; only countries that are borrowing members of the World Bank and are signatories to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are eligible. Thus six countries and territories in the hotspot, including Nauru, the U.S. state of Hawaii and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and Tuvalu are ineligible. Eligibility is indicated in the final column of Table 1. While this ecosystem profile includes data and analysis from all 20 countries and territories in the hotspot, conservation outcomes and CEPF strategic directions only refer to the 14 eligible countries and territories. However, it is hoped that this profile will be used to leverage funds from other donors to conserve globally threatened species and sites in countries and territories not eligible for CEPF funds.

History of the Hotspot
Until the establishment of SPREP as the regional agency with the mandate to protect and improve the Pacific islands environment, most conservation activity in the Pacific was conducted in an ad hoc manner at the national level. The need for a Pacific-wide regional environmental agency to coordinate effort was first formally recognized in 1969 at an IUCN-World Conservation Union Conference in Noumea, New Caledonia. However, it was not until 1982 that a formal agreement established SPREP as a program hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), formerly the South Pacific Commission, in Noumea. In January 1992 SPREP moved from New Caledonia to its permanent headquarters in Apia, Samoa (SPREP 2001).

Table 1. Key Geographical Data for Hotspot Political Units

Hotspot Country, State or Territory Physical Geography Land Area ( km²)1 Population 1 GDP/capita² (US$) CEPF eligibility
MICRONESIA - 3,214 495,416 - -
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands volcanic/uplifted coral 471 69,221 10,401 No
Federated States of Micronesia volcanic/coral atolls 701 107,008 1,822 Yes
Guam volcanic/uplifted coral 541 154,805 20,164 No
Kiribati low and uplifted coral atolls 811 84,494 625 Yes
Marshall Islands coral atolls 181 50,840 1,961 Yes
Nauru uplifted coral atolls 21 9,919 7,292 No
Palau volcanic/a few coral islands and atolls 488 19,129 8,000 Yes
FIJI volcanic/a few coral islands and atolls 18,333 9000,000 5,880 Yes
POLYNESIA - 24,941 1,874,703 - -
American Samoa volcanic/coral atolls 200 57,291 3,833 No
Cook Islands volcanic/coral atolls 237 18,027 4,727 Yes
Easter Island volcanic 166² 3,000² 6,000 Yes
French Polynesia volcanic/low and uplifted coral atolls 3,521 245,405 17,398 Yes
Hawaii volcanic/coral atolls 16,642³ 1,224,398³ 26,000 No
Niue uplifted coral 259 1,788 4,375 Yes
Pitcairn Islands volcanic/low and uplifted coral atolls 39 48 - Yes
Samoa volcanic 2,935 200,000 5,854 Yes
Tokelau low coral atolls 12 1,537 2,759 Yes
Tonga volcanic/uplifted coral 649 100,000 6,992 Yes
Tuvalu coral atolls 26 9,043 571 No
Wallis and Futuna volcanic/low coral 255 14,166 1,666 Yes
TOTAL HOTSPOT - 46,488 3,270,119 - 14 of 20

Key: - no current data available
1. UNDP Human Development Report 2005
2. SPC 2003a (www.spc.int/demog/demogen/english01-2/recentstats/2003/03/poster.xls)
3. Crocombe, R. 2001. The South Pacific. USP, Fiji.
4. U.S. Census Bureau 2003. (http://eire.census.gov/popest/estimates.php)

The development of the profile, especially the investment strategy, has been guided by a number of regional and national environmental management plans and strategies. The major regional strategy is the Action Strategy for Nature Conservation 2003-2007 (SPREP 2003a). The Action Strategy is a five-yearly strategy that reflects the approach of “mainstreaming nature conservation.” The strategy provides a framework for mainstreaming conservation into all development sectors and involving partnerships between conservationists, governments, the private sector, and civil society. The strategy provides broad 30-year goals under each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: environment, cconomy, and society. Under each broad goal are five-year objectives or targets in the short term.

Figure 1. Map of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot (PDF, 143 KB)

At the national level many countries have undergone a series of conservation planning exercises. In the early 1990s SPREP executed a regional project to develop State of the Environment Reports and then National Environmental Management Strategies (NEMS) for seven PICTs. More recently, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) implemented a regional project on the development of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAP) reports for 13 of the 14 independent countries in the region. The development of NBSAP reports is an obligation under Article 6 of the CBD.

The Polynesia-Micronesia profile was developed by a Profile Development Team. During the process, three subregional roundtable meetings were conducted, one in each of the following subregions: Western Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia. More than 50 participants from government and nongovernmental and scientific organizations participated in these roundtables. In addition, two expert roundtables involving participation from key regional environmental, educational, and donor agencies were conducted in Apia, Samoa.

The development of the profile dovetailed with the development of the “Living Archipelagos” initiative of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The objective of the Living Archipelagos initiative is to identify and help protect a select group of priority sites of high ecological value that can be quickly saved with relatively modest investment. The Living Archipelagos Program will use the findings of this profile to help identify up to 10 of the most biologically important archipelagos, including both terrestrial and marine biological diversity, in the region.

Geography of the Hotspot
The Pacific region is characterized by high levels of biodiversity and species endemism, extreme vulnerability to a wide range of natural disasters, and a diversity of cultures and languages, traditional practices, and customs focused on the environment (UNEP 1999). There is still a high cultural and economic dependence on marine and terrestrial resources for daily needs such as food, water, shelter, and medicine. Biodiversity conservation is therefore critical for social and economic development, as well as for the maintenance of essential ecosystem function.

The islands of the hotspot display great diversity in origin, geology, size and climate. Most of the islands in the region were originally formed from geological “hotspot” and fracture zone volcanism (Allison and Eldredge 1999). Physically the islands can be classified into several categories: younger volcanic islands, older volcanic islands, almost atolls (which have volcanic remnants surrounded by atoll islands), coral atolls, raised limestone islands (usually elevated atolls), mixed volcanic and limestone islands, and continental islands derived from fragments of old continental plates (SPREP 1992). A number of islands are currently or potentially active volcanically, including islands in Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, and the Northern Mariana islands (Allison and Eldredge 1999).

The hotspot can be considered to have a maritime tropical climate, with relatively warm and constant temperatures except at high elevations. The climate is influenced largely by two major external factors: atmospheric currents and ocean currents. Internal influences such as island shape, size and relief are also important but variable from island to island (Nunn 1994). Rainfall varies significantly horizontally across the hotspot, vertically within high islands, and seasonally. The wettest area is in the northwest of the hotspot in western Micronesia and the driest part of the hotspot is in the east around the Marquesas and Easter Island where an anticyclone persists for most of the year. Irregular climatic phenomena such as cyclones and the El Niño southern oscillation are important climatic events in most parts of the hotspot and have a significant environmental impact at times.

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